Princess Ida reigns in Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan frolic

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Submitted By Peg Doman.

When I read the press release from the Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan Society, I was a bit put off with the theme of the current season, “Challenging the Canon”. But I was reassured because the Society aims “to preserve the gorgeous music, wit and story-telling from the Victorian theater while also bringing problematic themes and outdated stories into the 21st century.” I thought, are they only going to present strident, angry women who will be conquered by manly warriors? Victorian society was dominated by men and women were considered to be household assets, with “womanly” virtues proscribed as children, kitchen and church (to paraphrase the German, “Kinder, Kuchen, und Kirche”). However, I was very happily reassured.

Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan Society aims “to preserve the gorgeous music, wit and story-telling from the Victorian theater while also bringing problematic themes and outdated stories into the 21st century.”

They did present very articulate and adamant women, some of whom had never seen a man before, but they also skewered the “ape-like”, wandering-eyed, warring men.

The story begins at King Hildebrand’s castle, complete with crenelated towers and gates, all in dull brown tones. Hildebrand’s (Zach Martin) son Hilarion (Colin Briskey) was married to (not betrothed) to King Gama’s (Mark Rabe) daughter Princess Ida (Lindsey Nakatani) when she was one year old and he was two. The groom does make a silly song out of being twice as old as she at their marriage, as if there’s some virtue in a year. Princess Ida did not come to Hildebrand’s realm as agreed in the two king’s contract. She grew up and, in her father’s Adamant Castle, founded a women’s university. It’s complete with 100 young ladies and Lady Blanche (Dawn Padula), the Professor of Philosophy, who spouts very confusing and doubtful maxims, and her daughter Melissa, Ida’s good friend.

Princess Ida as played by Lindsey Nakatani

The women are deep into learning about the shameful oafishness of men. The men are learning about being strong, warring soldiers and hoping to become successful wooers. The clash is deep and dark. It comes to a crux when King Hildebrand’s army comes to assault Castle Adamant to claim Princess Ida. Both sides were prepared to lay waste to the other but, just in time, Princess Ida negotiates a compromise that works. Each woman agrees to wed the man of her choice and the each man agree to be considerate and appreciative of the women’s minds and needs.

Natakani has a beautiful voice, so perfect and so strong, the audience couldn’t applaud enough. Mark Rabe brought a comedic turn as the brash, insulting, “unpleasant man” King Gama. Hilarion’s henchmen, Cyril (Chandler T.) and Florian (Andrew Murray) were very funny as young men who had never been around women and didn’t really understand what to do. Disguised as women in baby blue academic robes, the three got a surprise when they met the women. They fell in love, but they supposed to be women students. The tomfoolery commences.

Behind the scenes, King Gama, father of Princess Ida, played by Mark Rabe

The sets were sublime, especially Castle Adamant. The university library interior was blessed with three Gothic arches, beautifully calligraphed with Latin quotes and totally charming. Their ‘guardian’ was a T-Rex skeleton. The contrast between the men’s utilitarian barracks to the gorgeous women’s university made a clear contrast between the men’s and women’s aesthetics.

The costumes were wonderful. The women in floaty long dresses and the men in their uniforms and armor reinforced the clichés and biases of the late 19th century. King Gama’s 17th century white coat with elaborate embroidery, over a weskit and knee pants, all covered by a royal purple cape trimmed with ermine was impressive.

Left, Lady Melissa as played by Cassie Williams and right, Princess Ida as played by Lindsey Nakatani

Composer Arthur Sullivan’s charming vocal caprices along with librettist W. S. Gilbert’s wit lost none of their characteristic charm, silliness and singing. Glorious singing. Sullivan’s music is sublime and the orchestra led by Bernard Kwiram beautifully supported the singers. We saw many familiar faces on stage including Dawn Paula (Lady Blanche) and Colin Briskey (Hilarion). Dawn is the Director of Vocal Studies at the University of Puget Sound School of Music. We’ve seen her in U.P.S. productions as well as Tacoma Musical Playhouse where we just saw her last month in a presentation of Andrew Lloyd Webber songs. Colin we first saw in CenterStage’s opening production last year of The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940. It was nice seeing and hearing them both in Princess Ida.

The season’s hope of “Challenging the Canon” made a wonderful production. It was so much fun! Princess Ida runs only one more weekend, Friday through Sunday, from July 26 through 28. For tickets, call 800-838-3006.